Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: If you have seen plays at Rogue Community College's Riverside Theater, you have seen productions directed by the team of Ron Danko and John Cole — important plays with large casts, high production values and superb direction.

If you have seen plays at Rogue Community College's Riverside Theater, you have seen productions directed by the team of Ron Danko and John Cole — important plays with large casts, high production values and superb direction. Their comedies are especially joyous, with highly imaginative staging and impeccable comic timing. Their next production, "Hot L Baltimore," runs May 1 to May 17.

Ron Danko has spent his life in theater. He has been an actor, director and educator. He began his career by doing stand-up comedy, touring in two-man comedy teams. After earning an MA from Southern Illinois University he went on to pursue additional postgraduate work in theater at Southern Oregon University and the University of Oregon. He has established a number of large Shakespeare festivals and created theaters and college theater programs in the western United States, including The Western Stage in Salinas, Calif. Ron has been directing plays with John Cole since 2004 at RCC, where he currently teaches Communications.

I met with Ron Danko in the new Southern Oregon/Rogue Community College building in Medford.

EH: Co-directing is rare in theater; other than the English directors, Peter Hall and Peter Brooks, I haven't seen it.

RD: It just so happens that the two of us work really well together. It takes two people under circumstances, with the situation that we have here, with not having people to build sets. We are not just directing a play, but we are training students. I don't think either one of us could do it on our own. We have both said that.

EH: How do you see your students grow through theater?

RD: It's not just the theater training that we are doing; we teach discipline, responsibility, working together as a group and dependability with others. We are training our students in voice and in body language; we're training them in interpersonal skills. That's what we're involved in here. They get skills that that they can adapt to any situation, plus lot of self-esteem and self confidence. We get a lot of students that don't know what they want to do with their lives, and all of a sudden theater gives them momentarily some kind of goal and work ethic. And they're finding that at least right now this is fulfilling something more than what they ever anticipated they would get out of it. The most difficult part of it is trying to work with school schedules and work schedules.

EH: What is it about theater that is so compelling for those who are involved in it?

RD: Theater is a home away from home (for many, on a temporary basis). It is a sense of community. Here at RCC, when students are in shows they have an association with one another that they don't get with other classes. Often people take classes and leave and go to work. Here in the theater class, for many of these students (even though many of them work) there is a network between them; they become good friends, the students get to know one another, they depend upon each other. A much closer relationship is established. For a lot of people, besides expressing their artistry and creativity, a good part of it is community between people. Lately we've been bringing in community people to act, including experienced actors who have acted locally in theater, people who have never been in theater and Southern Oregon University theater students.

EH: Then your students are acting along with people with more experience?

RD: Our students learn so much from the others. The bar is raised because of that.

EH: If a community person wants to get involved in your next production, how do they get a hold of you? What is the process?

RD: Call John Cole at 245-7585, and we usually send press releases to the newspapers.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She studied acting at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.